Wednesday, November 07, 2007

the kingdom now or heaven later?

Here is a recent motivational poster Phil Johnson created.

E-S 057

Is Johnson recommending we focus on some kind of heavenly dream world rather than on the Kingdom come? Is he against alcohol consumption and linking that to entrance into Heaven or the Kingdom?

I doubt it. I think he has a disdain for all things emergent (and Charismatic and ...) and that drives him to teach an extreme he may otherwise choose not to do.

My observation is that many in Christendom are focused on some kind of event called the salvation experience (reciting the sinners prayer) followed by a second event called dying and going to Heaven to be with God forever. While I'm sure this is not true for all and it is an exaggeration for many, I think we could find a lot of 'believers' with that leaning.

Some of what is happening in the emerging church, as with others before them, is a counter to this general tendency. Rather than teach about proper balance regarding the tension we live in, that is, 'the already, not yet', Johnson picks on those that try to swing the pendulum back into balance. Some of those that Johnson critiques may have gone too far but so has Johnson in his effort.

This post will not attempt to address Johnson's failure to truly see what the Kingdom of God is (in that he is a cessationist) but rather will focus on whether or not the truth of the presence of the Kingdom is being taught.

One commenter regarding the poster rightly summarized the tension we live in.
It is not pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die but meat-on-the-plate-while-you-wait! ... spoken faithfully in the context that Christianity is relevant to the here and now and not something for old grannies to draw comfort from as they approach their 90th birthday.

The Pyromaniac article that proceeds this satire begins with this quote of Doug Pagitt.

And let me tell you 'Kingdom of God' language is really big in the emerging church.

This is excellent! It's unclear what the criticism is. The Kingdom of God language was really big with Jesus too (repent because the Kingdom is here). In Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren (and remember, I'm not a McLaren defender).

More and more of us are realizing something our best theologians have been saying for quite a while: Jesus' message is not actually about escaping this troubled world for heaven's blissful shores, as is popularly assumed, but instead is about God's will being done on this troubled earth as it is in heaven. So people interested in being a new kind of Christian will inevitably begin to care more and more about this world, and they'll want to better understand its most significant problems, and they'll want to find out how they can fit in with God's dreams actually coming true down here more often.

The word that Johnson takes issue with is "instead". Johnson believes McLaren has set-up a false dichotomy. I don't get that much out of the statement. Grace causes me to assume McLaren has some sense of balance. Johnson may know more about him than I do but I don't presume error on McLaren's part any more so than the on the part of the Pyromaniac's for lack of Kingdom discussion in their writings or from inferences from their posters and comments.

Johnson offers up 1 Col 1.5 (because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel) as a response to McLaren. The suggestion being that the gospel is something in heaven after death. The point of the passage however is broader than this.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

This is about faith in Christ. This is about love for fellow saints. This is about a hope that is kept in heaven (not necessarily the hope of getting to heaven). This is about hope that was received when they heard the Gospel. This Gospel is bearing fruit now. It's about walking worthy now because their lives have been changed. They have been delivered from darkness and transferred into a new Kingdom - the Kingdom of Heaven.

The next Scripture used as argument against the emergent view is similar.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. —1 Peter 1:3-5

But reading further we find verse 13ff, Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

This is about a changed life now (note the link back to the Colossians passage). Yes we have great future but it is not at the exclusion of the present life. The future has come crashing into the present. The already not yet. And by definition it makes a difference today.



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1 comment:

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

The changed life is a residual effect of being indwelt by God's Spirit. The basic story is redemption. A sinner is redeemed, his life changes reflective outwardly of that change, and he seeks to be a witness on a journey to a city whose builder and maker is God.

Or another words, Pilgrim's Progress.

Also, anyone who uses those type on posters as their non-interactive and satrirical communication deserve no credibility whatsoever. That might be Spurgeon but it isn't Christ.